Leak Reveals How, In Counter-Productive, Backwards Move, Donald Trump Plans to Issue New Executive Order Keeping Guantánamo Open


Collage of Donald Trump and Guantanamo prisoners on the first day of the prison's operations, January 11, 2002.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.


I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

The first responses that occurred to me when I saw the news, via Politico, that a leaked State Department cable revealed that Donald Trump was planning to issue an executive order keeping the prison at Guantánamo Bay open — in other words, rescinding President Obama’s unfulfilled 2009 executive order pledging its closure — was, firstly, how leaky this administration is, and, secondly, how Trump seems obsessed with overturning anything associated with his predecessor.

Just a week into Trump’s presidency, last January, the New York Times obtained a leaked executive order in which he proposed to keep Guantánamo open, to prevent further prisoner releases, and to reintroduce torture and “black sites,” rescinding not only Obama’s executive order regarding the closure of Guantánamo, but also his executive order banning the use of torture and ordering “black sites” closed.

He was shouted down on the latter, by everyone within the US establishment who had been stung by how close they had come to prosecution over the brutal and unnecessary post-9/11 CIA torture program, which the Senate Intelligence Committee witheringly dismantled in its 2014 report. However, his desire to keep Guantánamo open never went away, even though advisers surely told him that sending anyone there was impractical, as the courts have a solid track record of successfully prosecuting those accused of terrorism, and Guantánamo’s history reveals it as little more than a place of torture and abuse, intended to be beyond the reach of the US courts, which wrecks viable prosecutions, and, throughout its existence, has routinely warehoused insignificant prisoners at colossal expense.

In February, another leak revealed that Trump was planning to bring Islamic State prisoners to Guantánamo, raising problems regarding the scope of the detention policy that underpins Guantánamo’s existence — the Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed shortly after the 9/11 attacks, which covers al-Qaeda and the Taliban, but not IS. In August, officials told the New York Times that Trump was still undeterred, and was still hoping to expand the use of Guantánamo, a non-leak that broke with an established pattern of disgruntled officials working against the administration, whose contempt for the bureaucracy of government and its offices is, sadly, all too clear.

On the second point — Trump’s apparent hatred for Obama— it is hard not to conclude that it is motivated as much by racism as it is by a well-recorded vindictive streak in Trump’s character. Both, however, are demeaning traits to be expressed by the President of the United States.

As for a third point — the substance of the planned executive order — it is worth noting that, in practical terms, Guantánamo was not closing anyway. As Politico described it, “The order has limited practical effect: Obama was never able to make good on the order amid resistance from members of Congress, who blocked his efforts to move detainees to prisons in the United States and raised concerns that released inmates could revert back to terrorism.”

However, as Politico also notes, “for Trump, it is a powerful political statement,” fulfilling his campaign promise to keep the prison open, and to “load it up with bad dudes.”

I don’t mean to underestimate how horrendous it will be if Trump goes ahead with his plans. If he does issue the executive order, he will be sending the world a message that he idiotically endorses the continued existence of the pointless and exhausted facility at Guantánamo Bay, which cripples the delivery of justice to the small number of men genuinely accused of terrorist crimes, and delivers only endless illegal purgatory to lower-level prisoners who should have been sent home long ago.

However, I concede that that is a message that, sadly, those of us working towards the prison’s closure for so many years have been unable to get across to the majority of the American people, who remain entranced by the Bush administration’s lies that Guantánamo held “the worst of the worst,” and the minority of the American people who support Donald Trump and are happy for him to revive Guantánamo as though it has any purpose beyond expressing Islamophobia, racism, and contempt for the law.

In practical terms, the executive order is expected to be issued soon. Politico reported that “a person familiar with the issue” said that Trump was “expected to announce plans to sign the order during his State of the Union speech on Tuesday, or in the days before or after the address,” and although the cable noted, “At this time, we are not aware of any plans to bring additional detainees to Guantánamo Bay,” it also apparently “instructs US diplomats to begin informing officials from other countries about the executive order after the State of the Union speech, though embassies in London, Paris, Berlin and a few other cities can begin filling in foreign governments on Monday ‘with the request that they should not discuss the matter publicly until after the address.’”

The cable also “includes talking points designed to assuage the concerns of allies likely to criticize Trump’s decision.” Politico added — both unnecessarily, and with a coyness typical of the US mainstream media — that Guantánamo “is reviled in Europe and beyond as a symbol of US excess in the fight against terrorists and the use of ‘enhanced interrogation’ techniques that critics equate with torture,” but reading between the lines the mention of “talking points” is a clear concession that, if the executive order goes ahead, Trump will face serious criticism from allies around the world.

The cable also states that the executive order “does not signal a significant policy shift with respect to detentions. Rather, it affirms Guantánamo Bay will continue to remain open and serve as one of several options the United States maintains for the detention of terrorists.” Following on from this, it is also noted that the executive order “will direct the Defense Department, in consultation with the State Department and other agencies, to ‘recommend criteria to the President for determining detention disposition outcomes for individuals captured on the battlefield,’” also explaining that, “Currently, the United States employs a number of different options for disposition, including transferring individuals to host governments or pursuing prosecution in a US court,” which “remain viable options.”

While the above suggests an overall position in which little has changed, it is still to be hoped that Trump can be persuaded to walk back from officially endorsing the continued existence of a prison that has done so much over the last 16 years to tarnish America’s name as a nation founded on the rule of law, and which claims to respect the rule of law. Guantánamo’s continued existence mocks those claims every single day that it remains open.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Donald Trump No! Please Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2017), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and The Complete Guantánamo Files, an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

10 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, cross-posted from https://www.closeguantanamo.org, expressing the utmost weariness and disappointment with Donald Trump following the leaking of news that he plans to issue an executive order officially keeping Guantanamo open around the time of this week’s State of the Union address. The prison has been thoroughly discredited throughout the US establishment since the second term of George W. Bush’s presidency, but Trump, wedded deeply to his own racism, and the hard right officials and lawmakers he has gathered around him apparently don’t care. The only good news, if this goes ahead, is that it will set allies around the world against him, and make intelligence cooperation harder to achieve, because no one will want to be involved in any way with a president who, through his vileness and stupidity, thinks that reviving Guantanamo is a good idea.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    I’m hoping this is getting out to people who still care about the need for Guantanamo to be closed. As I state in the closing paragraph of my article, “it is still to be hoped that Trump can be persuaded to walk back from officially endorsing the continued existence of a prison that has done so much over the last 16 years to tarnish America’s name as a nation founded on the rule of law, and which claims to respect the rule of law. Guantanamo’s continued existence mocks those claims every single day that it remains open.” Thanks to everyone paying attention.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Rose Ann Bellotti wrote:

    Rue the day Obama failed to live up to his promise.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, exactly, Rose. Good to hear from you.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Rose Ann Bellotti wrote:

    Thank you for your hard work to end this American atrocity.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    It’s the least I can do, Rose. I just wish more people were (a) paying attention, and, increasingly (b) able to see what I do. I’ve a feeling I’m being sidelined as much as many other non-mainstream media outlets in social media’s skewed efforts to suppress “fake news.” I genuinely find it troubling.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Rose Ann Bellotti wrote:

    I, too, am troubled by all that, in fact, quite alarmed at what is happening. Everytime I share one of your posts I get such negative reaction from some people it is shameful. All Americans of course.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    That’s depressing to hear, Rose. Are people instantly defensive about any criticism of Guantanamo and America’s need to protect itself? It’s so difficult. I’ve spent 12 years reasonably arguing against Guantanamo’s existence on every level, and providing huge amounts of evidence demonstrating how awful it is, and yet so many people won’t even dip a toe in the water of knowledge, and there’s nothing I or anyone else can do to persuade them that they really do need to do so. Thanks again for caring.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Here’s a good press release from Human Rights First:

    Human Rights First today condemned President Trump’s reported decision to sign an executive order to keep open the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, a move that threatens the United States’ national security and is out of step with American ideals. In response to the news, the first commanding officer of Guantanamo Bay, Major General Michael Lehnert, issued the following statement:

    “There is substantial evidence that Guantanamo does not provide any useful options to deter our adversaries. In fact, its continued existence provides a recruiting tool and a rallying cry for our enemies. Guantanamo, therefore, is contrary to our national interests. For those terrorists we capture, federal courts and prisons have been much more effective in bringing our enemies to justice. We need to close Guantanamo for the security of our nation and our historic legacy.”

    Human Rights First notes that federal courts have proven much more effective at obtaining convictions of terrorist suspects than military commissions. Since September 11, 2001, military commission trials have resulted in only eight convictions, three of which were reversed or overturned entirely and one partially. Meanwhile, federal courts have produced more than six hundred terrorism-related convictions in the same period, including 108 in which the defendant was captured abroad.

    National security leaders and former government officials—including president George W. Bush, and other officials who helped set up the detention center—have supported closing Guantanamo because they’ve determined that its operation is contrary to the national interest. Human Rights First urges President Trump to continue efforts to close the facility.

    See: https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/press-release/trump-sign-order-keeping-guantanamo-open

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Here’s what the Center for Constitutional Rights had to say:

    “News of Trump’s forthcoming executive order on Guantánamo is confirmation of what his words and actions have already shown: that he intends to keep the prison open and keep everyone in it imprisoned. As some men enter their 17th year of detention without charge, and five continue to languish while being cleared for release, the only thing Trump has to say or do about it is issue an order further entrenching the prison and effectively sanctioning detainees’ continued punishment. His defiance in the face of national and international calls for Guantánamo’s closure is, of course, rooted in his executive hubris, his anti-Muslim animus, and his disregard for law, under which these detentions are without question unprecedented.”

    More here: https://ccrjustice.org/home/press-center/press-releases/guant-namo-attorneys-condemn-trump-s-planned-executive-order-keep

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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